I’m generally spontaneous. It’s easy enough for me to decide on something, while scrupulous planning and long preparation are not my cup of tea. I do not know whether it’s good or bad, but this is the fact. Even when I started my trip around the world, although serious work had been done, there were still a lot of gaps. But from the experience of previous shorter trips, I knew that it was impossible to foresee and plan everything to the last detail. This knowledge has confirmed itself repeatedly.
But Africa is quite another matter. From the very beginning, I realized that this would be the most difficult part of my journey. To some extent I was glad that it would be my final continent, after I would have gained a bit of experience. I took it more seriously in preparation and planning.
It happened that this very preparation, or rather, most of it, took place in Africa itself. Probably, this is the most ideal variant, but I didn’t choose it intentionally.
As I mentioned before, shipment of my motorcycle from Brazil to South Africa required a record two months, during which I was in Johannesburg and Pretoria. Patience by the end of two months was already running out, but you can read more about it (here).
Nevertheless, I was not wasting my time, and was preparing for the beginning of my journey as much as I could, in the hope that I would finally see my bike. By the time I got it and was ready to leave, I had a quite clear understanding of where I was and what to expect.
I am writing this text after my more-than-a-year trip across Africa has been finished, and thus, I can assess which parts of this preparation have justified themselves.
A lot of people are traveling in Africa (although, probably, less than in other areas), and all have their own ideas about preparation and behavior during the trip. I do not intend to describe all the views and opinions, only share my experience. At the end of the day, responsibility for your safety and life lies with you.
Setting off for any journey, the first thing is to make sure your health is satisfactory and will not let you down. Especially in Africa.
Beyond the borders of South Africa, the most highly developed country in Africa, you cannot be sure either of high-quality or even any medical care. Therefore, even full coverage of international health insurance can be useless.
I had medical coverage provided to me by the partner of my trip – Ukrainian insurance company INDIGO, and I decided to use it and visit some doctors.
To my great relief, all the tests and examinations by doctors proved that I am healthy and ready for the trip.
Nevertheless, the doctors’ positive verdict does not guarantee you will not encounter minor troubles like cold, headache, food poisoning. Contributing factors will be numerous, ranging from unexpected (or expected) weather changes, low-quality or just not suitable for your digestion food, lack of hygiene, etc. I’m not even talking about possible falls, cuts, or bites.
For such cases, you should have a first aid kit with a set of medications and first aid items. You know your body best and its sensitivity to surrounding conditions, so organize your first aid kit based on your peculiarities. But, of course, you can check contents of standard kits on the Internet. I admit, although I had a weighty package of medicine for different occasions (mainly thanks to my friends), I used it only a few times – I had a couple of powders for a cold and used adhesive plasters for blisters. Doing an audit of my baggage at the end of the journey, I could not even remember the purpose of some drugs. But probably, I should say thank you to my strong and hardy body.
Also, perhaps, to caution and vigilance. I believe that prevention is better than treatment. It is better to prevent even a small cold, cut or bite, be careful with food and water, than to deal with possible complications later. Prevention of a problem in most cases depends on you and your attentiveness. But beware that caution does not become paranoia to spoil all enjoyment of travel.
But some situations are difficult to prevent, and worst of all, dealing with them alone is problematic. Especially if you are traveling alone. For such cases, I always have a satellite tracker, with an SOS button. In Africa, in addition to my InReach tracker, I had a backup option – Spot, and in case of an emergency I could use any of them. They send messages about trouble or emergency to your trusted contacts who can react accordingly with knowledge of your exact location. To my great luck, I did not have to use this function. Nevertheless, having a working tracker in my pocket gave me more confidence and peace of mind. I consider it important, sometimes even vital, that your location is known to at least to some of your close friends or relatives.
God forbid, but it can happen that you are not able use the help button on the tracker. For example, if you are unconscious. For such situations it is good to have a special bracelet or pendant on your body with basic information – your name, blood type, allergies, phone number of a contact person.
I got this bracelet only in Africa. For some reason I did not think about it before, but friends from South Africa, along with the company ICE, manufacture of such accessories, explained the importance to me. Again, thank goodness, in all my time on African roads, I never had to use it.
With regard to vaccination, I honestly wanted to do all the injections my local therapist would advise. But it turned out that those ones I already had, hepatitis A, B, yellow fever, were quite enough, and they were still valid. Great news for me, since I do not like injections.
Unfortunately, vaccination against the disease which still takes lives, from malaria, does not exist. But there are medications which you can take as prevention when you are in a malaria zone. Since there is a great variety of such drugs, and some of them are just cheap and ineffective substitutes, it is better to consult a specialist before. My therapist prescribed me Mefian. I had to take one pill once a week, and start taking it one week before entering a malaria zone. In all my life I do not remember having more disgusting medicine, and even once a week seemed too much for me. But perhaps, it is thanks to this unpalatable medicine that I didn’t contract malaria.
In addition to pills, I had the whole pack of extra aids like creams and sprays, which were irreplaceable, especially at night. Mosquito nets also would be useful, although in most hotels in Africa, such nets are available in every room.
Malaria has an incubation period and can manifest itself several weeks after infection gets into your body. But the worst thing about malaria, I think, is that its symptoms are very similar to the symptoms of a cold or flu, especially at the early stages, and many people just ignore them. Unfortunately, it can be too late after a while, especially since there are several types of malaria, and some of them lead to fatal outcome very quickly.
The same therapist prescribed me another medicine, Coartem, which had to be taken immediately with the first suspicion of malaria. They cause no harm to the body, in case the alarm was false. I always tried to be alert, because I am one of those who do not pay attention to mild, or sometimes not so mild, symptoms of colds and flu. Also I had malaria diagnostic test with me, which you can buy in any pharmacy and which is very easy to use.
But it is best, if possible, to go immediately to the nearest clinic and do a blood test. Fortunately, doctors in Africa know what they deal with, malaria is quite common, and for them it is not a problem to detect it.
But all in all I believe that person’s emotional and physical health is interconnected, and if you initially tune yourself that everything is going to be ok and you will not end up a victim of a bouquet of exotic diseases and viruses, your chances to be just fine are very high.
Motorcycle technical condition
“Health” of a motorcycle traveling with you is of no less importance than yours. Moreover, situation with its maintenance outside of South Africa is about the same as the medical one. There is, of course, an option of courier delivery of spare parts and even specialists from other countries, but this is your money and time.
By the time I started traveling in Africa, odometer of my KTM 1190 showed more than 100 thousand km, and I was a bit concerned whether my bike could manage the whole planned route without any problem. I was worried that after South Africa I would not find proper KTM service any more. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised that KTM dealerships turned out to be in Namibia, Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Egypt. Even if my motorcycle does not need scheduled maintenance, I’m always pleased to drop by and meet KTM guys in all countries along my route.
Most of the large-scale maintenance of the bike I expected to get in South Africa, before the start of my trip. My expectations were fully met.
RAD Moto, managed by Dave Griffin, is the official and largest KTM dealership in Africa. The whole team of KTM South Africa took an active part to prepare my bike for the journey. Immediately upon arrival from Brazil, the motorcycle was delivered to KTM workshop, and a team of several mechanics started to work. I’m not very sophisticated in mechanics and generally in the technical part of the journey, but the fact that my bike was almost completely disassembled, brings me to the conclusion that profound work had been done. I was very interested about what the mechanics would say about general condition of the motorcycle. I was assured that for the mileage it had on its odometer the motorcycle is in an excellent shape and there were no indications of any possible failure.
In South Africa, there are several KTM dealerships in different parts of the country, and I visited many of them – in Pretoria, Polokwane, Nelspreit, Durban, Cape Town. In general, before I left South Africa, my motorcycle went through several basic check-ups, with replacement of oil and all liquids, the valves were adjusted, chain and clutch replaced, new tires, kindly provided by Metzeler company, put on.
The only small problem I had sometimes in the morning, when it was cold at night and the bike was outdoors, it was difficult to start it. In this case, I always had terminals handy to start it with a car nearby. The battery could not be replaced with a new one. Due to the new rules and prohibition of transportation of batteries by air, it is not always easy to find the battery of the required power. Well, and sometimes I had to fix the signals and mirrors after falls. The rest of attention and care I gave to my motorcycle was connected with positive emotions, and once again I was convinced that I had the best motorcycle in the world. Over 30 thousand kilometers across Africa were done easily and without any hassle. Take care of your motorcycle, before and during the journey, and it will take care of you.
Some off-road workout
No matter how many years you have been riding and how many thousands of kilometers you have covered, there is always something to learn.
By the time my African trip was about to start, I had not been riding my motorcycle for two months, all this time it was in Brazil. That’s why I needed some warm-up to feel in touch again. It was a pleasant coincidence that my friends from Adventure Riders SA team were organizing the annual NDBA event (Natal Dual Bike Adventure) in the province of Kwazulu Natal. There everyone could try themselves and their bikes on routes of different complexity. In fact, my journey started here, and despite some scary sections, inside of me there was growing confidence that I could handle this great continent. Step by step, kilometer by kilometer.
Also straight after this event, I went for some off-road training at ADA Training and Outdoor Center. My couches Judy and Mark managed to break some barriers inside me, and to much of my surprise, I revealed some hidden reserves and abilities inside of me. Many of Judy’s instructions sounded in my ears later like a mantra when I was riding some difficult stretches. Sometimes it is not easy to admit that we do not know how to do something, but we should not neglect training
A belief that Africa is always super-hot, is just a stereotype. Yes, Africa can often be hot, but it can be cold, windy, and wet as well. And recently, because of climate changes in the whole world, also unpredictable. It is no longer possible to foresee rainy seasons and droughts. You have to expect anything, from day to day, and within the day.
Therefore, before you start travelling in Africa it is better to be fully armed – to get the gear and other devices for different weather conditions.
Another lucky coincidence I did not expect at all, happened just shortly before my departure. I got the new motorcycle gear from Touratech company: namely, Companero World 2 suit, Aventuro Carbon Companero helmet and Daytona Traveler GTX boots. I was very happy with my previous KTM gear, but it was worn out in previous 4 years, and why to hide, I “grew out” of it a little bit. That’s why I was very happy to have new things.
These new things turned out to be very functional and convenient. In the sun, I was comfortable traveling with a “breeze”, thanks to multiple ventilation on the jacket and pants. The rain layer, zipped to the main suit, protected not only from rain, but also from wind and cold weather. Helmet and boots pleasantly surprised with their weight. I put on my boots not only for riding, but also often for walks, especially in rainy weather. They did not get wet at all! It is true that there is no bad weather, only bad gear.
I was less fortunate with my tent. By the beginning of my trip across Africa, it started to get wet, even with small rains. I will not blame the manufacturer, because in South America, even with more severe rains, it served me well. I think the main reason was that I damaged the bottom of the tent and could not fix properly. So, yes, keep in mind that sleeping and waking up being dry and comfortable is one of guarantees for a good day.
But if it’s hot in Africa, then it is really hot, and the sun bakes you mercilessly. Therefore, the cap, sunscreen, long sleeved shirts should be your irreplaceable friends and companions throughout the journey in Africa.
And of course, water. But water is so serious and personally for me important topic that I will make it as a separate block.
We all know even from the school program that a human body consists mainly of water. Accordingly, water plays an important role in functioning of a body, and the lack causes varying degrees of problems – from general fatigue to cessation of life.
But it seems that this knowledge remains passive for many of us, and we do not pay serious attention to supplying our body with enough water. It was the same with me, until in Mexico I passed out due to dehydration, shortly after parking at a gas station. Since then, my Camelbak was always filled with water, and I have a few additional bottles of water inside of the bike. I drink water constantly, even if I do not feel thirsty, and sometimes even without stopping.
Drinking water is important not only when it’s hot, just a few sips of water is enough to feel refreshed and ride a few more kilometers until a planned halt.
Not only in Africa, but also in many other parts of the world, it is strongly recommended to drink water only from sealed bottles. And do not look at the locals who easily put their hands under the water pump on the street. They were born and grew up on this continent and in this country. Their immune system can handle it.
Fortunately, in most places it is not a problem to buy bottled water. Another thing is if you found yourself far from civilization. There you do not have much choice, and any available water is better than a painful death from thirst. For such cases, I had water purification pills and special water filters. I used them several times, for example, in Namibia, when I had to clench my teeth and drink hot water of brown color and with disgusting taste. And it was not even available in abundance.
After this experience, I added pure, cold water to my personal list of basic components of happiness. The other two are plenty of food and a soft bed.
By the time of departure, I collected the whole box half of my height of the things I decided to leave behind in South Africa. Well, half of the box was filled by my old gear. Nevertheless, to make my bike as light as possible was the right decision.
Even in Africa, or rather, especially in Africa, you will see how little you need. I have never regretted of any of the things I left behind. Though, of course, I will collect them later as memory. In Africa it is much more difficult, and often impossible, to find and buy things you were used to at home, but you will learn to survive without then, and what is even more surprising, to feel calmer and happier.
So travel light. And, if you can, travel on a light motorcycle, but I would not dare to insist on this. Because I will not trade my beloved heavy KTM I for anything.
Communication and collection of contacts
While waiting for the motorcycle, I spent most of the time meeting and talking to people, many of whom had a lot of experience traveling across Africa. This communication and information collected proved to be priceless for me. I have to admit, there lived a lot of fears inside of me, it seemed that Africa was too tough for me, and I aimed at something beyond my capabilities. Even in two months of waiting for my bike, I saw a sign – maybe I should not go to Africa at all, maybe all the circumstances indicate this?
The main result of meeting experienced travelers was that I stopped seeing traveling in Africa as an impossible task. I learned to believe that with proper preparation and vigorous morale, it is, though not easy, but possible. Even for a woman riding solo. In Africa there is a saying: Africa is not for sissies. And they say that Africa cannot be subdued or tamed. During my year in Africa, I came to a conclusion that if you do not set such a goal, to subdue and to tame, Africa will prove to be kind to you. As much as possible : )
So, communication with travelers across Africa, collecting contacts and useful information on accommodation, border crossings, etc., all this can facilitate your traveling around Africa. But it is also important to remember that the situation here changes very quickly, sometimes with the speed of lighting, and what was relevant a year, or even a month ago, can change. Therefore, any information received should be assessed critically, considering who provided it and when it was valid, you should search for confirming or refuting facts in present. Again, I will repeat what I wrote earlier, your safety and life is not someone else’s, but your personal responsibility.
Making the route
My route across Africa, like in all other continents, I was making the following way. I plan the general direction in advance, and make the detailed route for each country right before entering the country, based on the information collected before and current situation at the moment. Sometimes the route can be modified already in the country itself.
Initially, I chose the south and east of Africa, and my route looked the following way: South Africa, Mozambique, Lesotho, Swaziland, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan, Egypt.
In the next texts of my blog, I will tell you about my experience in each of these countries.
This is probably the very first word and concern that comes into one’s mind when thinking about traveling in Africa. I was no exception.
And although in previous years of my traveling I have never even thought of having any self-defense means, and I just smiled when people asked me how I defended myself in case of anything, I added an electric shocker and two pepper sprays to my luggage when I started to travel in Africa. I will say straight away that I never used them, there never happened any situation where these or other items would be needed. Based on this only, you can make your conclusions about danger or its absence.
Unfortunately, information transmitted from mouth to mouth, gains more and more dramatic turns, as the number of its carriers increases. And in the end, it has very little to do with reality. The same applies to information transmitted by mass media. And although I do not call to ignore alarm signals given by any of these sources, critical evaluation and verification can serve you well.
Perhaps I was lucky, perhaps, being cautious and common sense played their role, or maybe the devil turned out to be not as bad as it was painted, but throughout the year in Africa, neither my life nor my safety had ever been threatened.
Nevertheless, traveling in Africa, you must be cautious, especially on the road. Traffic and mutual respect of the road users leave much to be desired. You can survive only with increased concentration on the road and around it, ability to foresee actions of drivers, people living along the road, animal behavior, and sometimes with almost magical skills to disappear right in front of a truck rushing straight into you. Personally, I am the most vulnerable to this factor of danger. Honestly, I was often close to hysterics, when miraculously I was able to get off the wheels of a car or bus on my lane. But look, a driver on the road can be thousand times wrong, you might never break a single traffic rule in your whole life, but you might end up being injured, and no justice, even if it is gained, will not give you back health or life. So watch with your eyes widely open, develop the road intuition, do not expect that someone will care about your life more than yourself.
My most important lesson learned when travelling in all continents, is that most of people on earth are kind, sympathetic and helpful. Also, I was convinced many times, that despite some differences between peoples and races, there is much more that unifies us. This applies to Africa as well.
Only we choose what to focus on, differences or similarities. And this will determine how successful and pleasant our communication with local people would be.
Perhaps their perception of you will be initially based more on the differences. Looking at you, it’s not difficult to guess that you are a guest here, and interest in you and your vehicle will often be due to the fact that you are on the continent with the largest concentration of the poorest countries in the world. But despite all this, not just once or twice, and not as an exception, you will witness such hospitality and generosity, which will bring tears into your eyes.
What is more important for you, what you will prefer to remember, what will remain in your heart, how open you’ll be not only to teach but to learn from these people, to give and at the same time to accept – this is your choice. And it’s better if you give yourself such a setup at the very beginning of your journey.
Nowhere in the world relativity of time is proved so true as in Africa. Nowhere planning and serious preparation is as important as before traveling in Africa. And nowhere there is more probability that your plans will not come true in the way you expected.
I think I was lucky that I learned this lesson at the very beginning, while waiting for my motorcycle. By the time I got it, all the initial plans had to be replaced with new ones, but now with a note that, perhaps, they will have to be modified as well.
It is very important to learn patience and flexibility in Africa. You will not be able to subdue and tame Africa, but Africa might easily break you.
Sometimes you will have to wait for ages, and sometimes to react quickly; you would find it useful to learn to recognize double meanings in promises, and not to rely too much on the set deadlines. And the most important will be the ability to take everything as it is and with a smile on your face. Sometimes this will help to move the rock and lead in the end to the expected result.
I already mentioned at the beginning the most important of all this. It’s not much the matter of what is happening around or can potentially happen, but how you feel about it and what you expect.
No matter how hard it might be, till the extent you would want to pull hair out of your head, no matter how hopeless your prospects can be, you should try to stay calm, hope for light at the end of the tunnel and do your best to enjoy the moment no matter what.
Did I always manage to be soft, flexible, and patient? No. Was I ever on the verge of failure and breakup? Yes. But after more than a year, riding through the whole planned route in Africa, I can say that Africa had been kind to me, and, in turn, I learned to accept it as it is, without trying to subdue or tame it.